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N O V E M B E R   1 9 9 8

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by Stanley Plumly

audioear picture Hear Stanley Plumly read this poem (in RealAudio).

(For help, see a note about the audio.)

Also by Stanley Plumly:
The Marriage in the Trees (1996)
Will Work for Food (1993)
In Answer to Amy's Question What's a Pickerel (1990)

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Poetry Pages

In a dream or fantasy I see my mother,
having put me down, leaning over me,
pulling the door shut twice, and if I rise
again, locking it. In school we were told
to put our heads down on the desks and think
of it as prayer or to lie on our left
sides on the floor, an inch between the pound
weight of the heart and passage of the earth.
We were told to listen to the silence,
not to talk, and breathe in slowly, slowly,
and pretend, if we had to, it was dark.
Already on our own we'd learned to study
out the window, to cogitate the tree
within the cloud, the long sunlit fingers
of the crow, and how to hold an object
in the mind and let it turn until it
turned the other life it wanted, the way
a doorknob with its facet-gaze of glass
becomes a diamond or a crystal,
and as you fall asleep, disintegrates,
snow in a paperweight. And now we were
foreshadowing sleeping in the future,
the disconnected nights, the dawn-light wakings,
the shadow puzzles clouding up the windows,
the hardwood study table and a chair,
gravity's floor -- a lifetime's worth of all
the afternoons we'd lose or lose part of
trying to recover what was lost. So we'd
use our hands and arms to blind the eyes,
and then the mind to isolate ourselves.
Then await the voice outside calling our return,
the same voice as the moment of instruction:
lie down in the middle of the day,
dream fragmentary, dusk-enhancing dreams,
be the body-of-the-one-looked-upon,
come back to life, O startled, distant child.

Stanley Plumly is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. His most recent book of poems is The Marriage in the Trees (1997).

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; November 1998; Naps; Volume 282, No. 5; page 82.

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